San Antonio Spurs star Kawhi Leonard is seriously considering participation in the USA Basketball national team's minicamp in Las Vegas next week, an event for the embattled All-NBA forward to showcase the status of his recovery to prospective trade partners, league sources told ESPN.
Leonard has been listed as one of the 35 players invited to the camp at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas since April, but his recovery from a season-ending quadriceps injury and possible trade status created uncertainty about his intentions.
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich will lead the camp in his role as national team coach.
Monday was the first official date Leonard had been eligible to sign a five-year, $221 million super-maximum contract extension, but it came and went with Leonard having already made it clear that he does not want to return San Antonio.
Trade talks with several teams continue, with traction slowly, surely gathering with offers for a star insisting that he wants to play for the Los Angeles Lakers. If the Spurs are losing deal leverage, they aren't operating in a manner that suggests they're peddling a depreciating asset. San Antonio has been determined in demanding a sizable return on Leonard.
Still, the bidding war among Boston, Philadelphia and the Lakers never materialized. The Los Angeles Clippers, Denver, Phoenix, Portland, Toronto and Washington are among teams who've talked with San Antonio, league sources said.
So far, the Sixers have held out three players -- Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz -- in talks. Boston hasn't included five players, including Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hayward and Al Horford. The Celtics and Sixers have offered pick-heavy packages that haven't moved the Spurs, league sources said.
The Sixers have the most insight into his medical condition because Leonard used New York-based Jonathan Glashow, the Sixers' orthopedic surgeon, as one of his primary outside physicians. "In some ways, [Leonard] has made it so the Sixers know more about his recovery than the Spurs do," one rival executive said.
Recently, there has been less traction around the possibility of the Celtics' and Sixers' talks with the Spurs. Those teams are well-positioned for the future, and aren't in the marketplace to be risk-takers. And Leonard -- with his murky health picture, his desire to be in Los Angeles -- constitutes a risk on some levels.
So far, the Lakers are playing the longer game in trade talks, confident in the belief that Leonard wants to play with them and plans to sign in free agency in July 2019.
The Spurs' negotiating style -- initially scripted conversations with teams, slow-developing -- doesn't always lend itself to a rapid acceleration of deal talks. San Antonio has been methodical in is approach to searching out a deal.
Through conversations with opposing teams, it appears that the Spurs want to bring back an All-Star-caliber player, high-potential young players and draft assets in a Leonard deal. For now, the threshold on a trade is considerable and it remains unclear if the marketplace will command such a significant return.
Besides Leonard's desire to play in Los Angeles, his noncommunicative personality makes a season-long recruitment pitch post-trade -- like Oklahoma City did with Paul George -- less likely to gather traction.
Nevertheless, the situation remains fluid and can change with a single call. While the prospects for reconciliation with Leonard are low, the Team USA minicamp will provide another opportunity for Popovich to interact with and speak to the player he once hoped would take over for Tim Duncan as the face of the Spurs franchise.
If Popovich cannot persuade Leonard, San Antonio has to make a trade eventually -- or risk losing him for nothing in free agency.
Among NBA teams and USA Basketball officials, there is a belief that Leonard wants to participate in the camp, but could be dissuaded based on ancillary concerns.
Leonard holds some enthusiasm for showcasing his revitalized health in the wake of the quad injury that has been at the center of discord between the Spurs and him, sources said. The question being debated, sources said, is whether participating in the Team USA camp will ignite trade talks that deliver him to his preferred destination -- the Lakers -- or give the Spurs more cause to hold on to Leonard and push him to report to training camp in September.
Around Leonard, there have been suggestions that he has no intention of entering the Spurs' practice facility again, which rival teams consider an empty threat unless he's willing to incur a forfeiture of his $20 million salary and fines.
The sheer volume of players (35) and coaches (nine) in attendance spares Popovich and Leonard the need to interact much -- if at all -- in these semi-public workout sessions. Nevertheless, there's still a level of intrigue surrounding Popovich and Leonard in this setting and that could create the kind of media frenzy that Leonard disdains and could seek to avoid.
There's an eagerness among prospective teams to see Leonard on the floor before committing significant trade assets to him. Rival executives considered Leonard a top-five player in the NBA prior to last season, but he didn't play to that level in his brief nine-game regular-season return as he continued to recover from the injury.
There's no mechanism with which to measure the quad injury's impact on Leonard's game until he returns in the regular season, but teams are forced to consider those uncertainties when discussing trade terms with the Spurs. What they're willing to offer in a trade -- and then pay annually on a max-contract extension to re-sign Leonard -- is different for a top-five player than it would be if Leonard's injury turns him into, say, a top-12 or a top-20 player.
There's little, if anything, teams will witness at a national team minicamp that can begin to answer questions about Leonard's fitness to become an All-NBA-level performer again. Still, it can be visual confirmation on the basics.
"His [physical] can tell us he's healthy again, but it can't tell us if he's gone from a top-five player to a top 15, or top 30," one general manager told ESPN.
The Spurs haven't allowed prospective trade partners to talk directly with Leonard, nor his representation, and it's unlikely that permission will be granted without an agreement in principle on a deal to acquire Leonard -- if even then. In most NBA deals, no medical information is exchanged until an agreement on trade parameters is reached.
The Spurs had always hoped that the five-year, $221 million super-max extension would be too tempting to turn down. Fresh off a June trade demand, San Antonio had resisted offering that contract in part because of Leonard's anger toward the organization, his unwillingness to consider the possibility of a future together.
For now, there's no extension, no trade and no clarity on Leonard's future with the Spurs. The NBA's most dramatic divide remains unresolved ---- with a national team minicamp possibly the next mile post on the path.